The Living Wage Project #3

What is the cost of living in Sweetwaters? How much should someone pay a domestic worker who lives in Sweetwaters? 

images-2 Here are some answers. (To download the detailed report, click here: Living Wage) If you’re interested to know more about what a living wage is, go here. To find out why someone should pay a living wage, go here.)

Where did these numbers come from? A focus group of people from iThemba Projects were interviewed. This group was ideal because all the members currently live in Sweetwaters, and they spend most of the day in Sweetwaters as well, working with children and youth and doing home visits. Some also grew up in Sweetwaters. As such, they have a good grasp of the community as a whole, have been in many, many different homes, (therefore have an idea of how the “average family” lives) as well as have first hand experience themselves.  

What categories are included? For this project, we assumed the person was a domestic worker living with a 15, 10 and 5 year old. The wage includes food, housing, utilities, education for the children, health care, transportation, and a miscellaneous category for things like clothes, toothpaste etc. In these categories, it was assumed that this person was living as frugally as possible, was attending free/local schools and clinics, and taking advantage of free government services wherever possible. We assumed their diet was nutritious, but basic (things like cabbage, pap, and only cheap meat twice a week). This worked out the basic survival wage. Then we added in an amount to go towards breaking the family out of the cycle of poverty, and this number was based on the cost of four UNISA modules per year, and this gave us the living wage. This is not assuming the domestic worker is going to private healthcare, government schools in Hilton, or shopping at Woolworths. (Download the full detailed report to see exactly how the amount for each category was calculated. I think you’ll be surprised to see how conservatively we estimated the amount for these categories). 

What categories are not included? Many things that a middle class family takes for granted, such as the ability to save for retirement, a house, or a rainy day. It does not include money for holidays or non-essential travel. It assumes only 2 days of work missed for sickness, and no vacation days. No maternity leave, costs associated with babies, birthday presents, a tithe, gifts, life insurance, and funeral cover are included.

How was the wage calculated? It was assumed this domestic worker travelled in to work each day (taking only one taxi- many people in this area have to take two), and we assumed 20 work days each month. (i.e.: this is not a “live-in” domestic worker). To download a full report with explanations of where numbers came from, and the complete breakdown of costs in each category, click hereLiving Wage. To download a spreadsheet that will allow you to play with the numbers and see how costs would change by including more categories or omitting some, click hereLiving Wage Estimate Tool. Our results found that:

In order to take home a living wage each month, the employer needs to pay R3606/month or R180/day. 

What if I don’t live in Hilton and my domestic worker does not live in Sweetwaters? How accurate is this number then? Sweetwaters is a semi-rural township outside Pietermaritzburg, therefore the cost of living is lower than someone who lives in a big city like Joburg or Capetown. This is why we’ve included both the full report that shows where we got the numbers from, as well as a downloadable excel tool that will allow you to change/adapt for your context. If you live in a totally different context than the one which we live in, sit down and ask your domestic worker about some of these categories- like, “How much does it cost to take a taxi in this area? How far away is the nearest free government clinic?” etc. — find out the particulars and work out the cost of living in your area.

As I mentioned before, this family in Joburg worked out a living wage for their domestic worker would be, and it is definitely higher than ours. However, we wanted to come up with a figure that was based on the average cost of living in Sweetwaters, and not necessarily specific to each and every particular case (for example we took an average number of children, and an average situation). We did not find out the costs for a person to live in Sweetwaters at a very high standard of living– we found out how the average family  lives– so by paying your domestic worker this amount, you’re not necessarily paying them an amount that will put them buying organic produce from Woolworths like you do. This means there is room for you to go above and beyond this wage– however, we wanted to work out what the bare minimum you should consider paying your domestic worker should be if you want to be paying a living wage.

And if you now have a million questions like: How could I ever afford this? What should I do now?! Stay tuned for a bonus part four! 🙂 

Also, please consider sharing this post with friends and colleagues. So much of what we pay our domestic workers is not based on concrete research but just a gut feeling that we should pay more than minimum wage. It would be fantastic if our community could be known as a place where the people we employ are given a living wage. This is a really practical concrete way we can do something to move our country forward, and help people break out of the cycle of poverty.

If you have any questions or comments- send us feedback! Either comment below on this post, or email the authors at: ann.ebert.oneill(at) or steph.ebert17(at)

4 thoughts on “The Living Wage Project #3

  1. I think you should include the minimum wage here for comparison. I found it at (last updated apparently on 15-05-2014)

    The wage quoted for the Sweetwaters area (which falls within Area B), the minimum wage for a fulltime domestic worker (i.e. working for more than 27 hours per week) was R1618.37

    Do you know how the government calculates this figure and why it is so different?


  2. I don’t know how the government calculates it, Johann might have ideas on this, I’ll look it up– but in most countries the minimum wage and living wage are quite different. In the full report you can see the link to an organization that works out living wages in the USA, and those are definitely higher than the minimum in those areas as well.


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